Master Naturalists groom area trails for fun, fellowship and fulfillment
(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles about volunteer teams of North Central Arkansas Master Naturalists (NCAMN). For more information about how to join, please e-mail email@example.com)
A group of 10 to 20 volunteers are keeping the Natural State natural in the Twin Lakes Area.
They are members of the North Central Arkansas Master Naturalist’s “Trail Patrol” team, a group which cleared over 65 miles of trails in north central Arkansas last year, including the Buffalo River Trail and trails along the White River, and Norfork and Bull Shoals lakes.
“Grooming woodland trails is a favorite activity among area Master Naturalists,” said co-team leader Roy Stovall of Lakeview, who organizes the teams during fall, winter and spring.
Volunteers use a variety of tools to keep trails in good condition, ranging from gasoline-powered, back-pack leaf blowers, string/blade trimmers and chain saws, to extendable handled loppers, hand pruners and shears, hoes and rakes, according to Gordon King of Norfork, who maintains the trail equipment the chapter owns.
“We work at least one morning a week,” says team co-leader Lee Argyle of Lakeview, “during the cooler months of October through April. That allows us to avoid such hot-weather hazards as ticks, chiggers, venomous snakes and heat exhaustion. And with the work, we warm up quickly on even frosty days.”
“Trail Patrol is one of my favorite ways to get out in the woods in the fall and winter months with my master naturalist friends,” added Sue Hoeper of Elizabeth. “There’s a task for everyone. Some volunteers like to walk the trail while clearing fallen branches and loose rocks and lopping new growth that has begun to encroach the path.
“Others check for trail markings and refresh metal markers or blue paint blazes as needed. Still others make use power blowers, blade and string trimmers and chainsaws to tackle leaf clearing, brushy areas and downed trees,” she added.
A work day
Before each work morning, trail team leaders usually “pre-hike” a trail to develop a plan for what work needs to be done, said Stovall, especially any downed trees that need to be chain sawed and moved off the trail. They also get a pretty good idea about how many volunteers and what other tools will be needed.
A typical work morning begins with 10 to 15 volunteers gathering at a trail head to select assignments, says Argyle. If enough show up, they’ll split into two teams, and one team will shuttle to another point on the trail, so the two teams can work toward each other.
Trail sections are usually about two miles long, which normally requires around three hours of work. For longer trail sections, like the Buffalo River Trail, teams may number as many as 18, who may work for a full day.
After the chain sawers move out to tackle downed trees, next on the trail are the back-pack blowers, usually two on each side of the trail, according to King. Clearing leaves from the trail enables the weed trimmers to see the grasses they mow down and the hand-tool volunteers to see dead branches and rocks to move off the trail.
Volunteers with loppers pay particular attention to tree branches that appear to be growing toward the trail. When they spy small cedar trees, they’ll often move off the trail to cut them down. Eastern red cedars are actually junipers, and, while native to the area, they tend to choke out other native trees and wildflowers.
“Trail Patrol lets you be outdoors, put in some good work, and get to enjoy the trails as you go,” said Laura Johnson of Lakeview. “It is such a joy to know that others will get to enjoy the trails even more since we have taken that opportunity to clean them up for them. Good for all!”
Why they do it
While the work is hard, the reward is fulfilling to the volunteers.
“When I joined the Master Naturalist chapter I was new to the area,” said Ron Beasley of Mountain Home, “and didn’t know anything about the trails in the area. The education I have received on trails around here has been most enjoyable and useful.”
“When we became newly retired couple,” said Mike and Debbie Rees of Lakeview, “we were looking for something to do as a couple. We knew we wanted to give back to the community and learn more about the natural state of Arkansas. NCAMN has lots of ways to volunteer and as a couple we picked trail patrol.
“Cleaning trails gives us a sense of accomplishment and we love to take friends back on the trails to hike,” they added. “Each year with NCAMN we continue to make friends with other like-minded people. We do work hard on the trails but the fellowship is worth it all.”
The teams have bonded thorough the process, according to members.
“The fellowship among the Trail Patrol Group has made it a lot of fun,” said Beasley. “Certainly going out to a group lunch at a local restaurant after working on the trails adds to the enjoyment. It also provides the satisfaction of providing well maintained trails for the hikers who use them.”
“It’s always satisfying to see our efforts after a morning spent clearing a trail for our fellow Ozark hikers to enjoy — and good exercise, too,” added Hoeper.”
Future articles about Master Naturalist activities will describe teams that assess stream water quality of ten creeks in five counties; work with native and heritage gardens in Baxter and Stone Counties; and present nature education programs for children and families.
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